Reinholdt-Dunne, M.L., Mogg, K., Esbjorn, B.H. and Bradley, B.P.
Effects of age and anxiety on processing threat cues in healthy children
Journal of Experimental Psychopathology (doi:10.5127/jep.019611).
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This study investigated relationships between childhood anxiety, chronological age and threat processing biases. It used a cross-sectional design comparing younger and older children, separated using a median-split on trait anxiety scores into low-anxious versus moderately-anxious groups. Participants were 67 schoolchildren, aged 7–14 years, who completed emotional Stroop and visual probe tasks with angry, happy, and neutral faces. Results from both tasks showed (i) a main effect of age on emotion processing, i.e., increased bias for emotional relative to neutral faces in younger than older children, and (ii) a moderating effect of age on anxiety-related bias for threat. That is, on the modified Stroop task, an enhanced processing bias for angry faces, relative to neutral faces, was found only in the group of moderately-anxious younger children. This bias appeared to be specific to angry faces, as it was not found for happy faces. On the visual probe task, moderately-anxious younger children also showed an enhanced attentional bias for angry faces, relative to neutral faces; in addition, they also showed a similar bias for happy relative to neutral faces. Taken together, findings suggest that moderately-anxious younger children show enhanced processing of threat, relative to neutral information, and that this anxiety-related threat bias lessens with age.
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